The Patient as Customer

The headline for a recently published McKinsey survey stated “Ninety percent of hospital CEOs ranked Patient Experience Management (PEM) as their first or second priority over the next three years.

Buried deep within the article was a throw away statement that little will be done regarding PEM because nobody knows who owns the patient.

Any journalism student worth their salt would tell you the real headline for the survey should read something like “Ninety percent of hospital CEOs and COOs do not know who owns the patient at their hospital.”

From a business perspective, in the conversation about patients and PEM one thing is always overlooked.  These people, the patients, also have a business avatar.  They are also customers.  PEM from a business perspective focuses on all the non-clinical aspects of the patients as a customer.

There are dozens of non-clinical processes that affect each customer (patient)—admissions, discharge, billing, scheduling, disputes, claims…

Many of these processes are ineffective and inefficient.  Many are redundant and duplicative.  Many add more cost than value.

If you want to improve the patient experience, look first at these.  You will be surprised by how much better your organization will be perceived.

Patient Experience Management: I hate to be a pest…

…but I inadvertently just proved my own point, albeit to myself. I have been fooling around–with my old MP3 player, and I couldn’t get it to turn off or on–that’s why my wife hides the power tools.

I ducked into a nearby phone booth and put on my SSCC (self-service customer care shirt)–do you realize most kids under the age of ten have never seen a phone booth? Sorry.

Off to Google. I never even considered going to the manufacturer’s web site. I typed, “Remove battery from Creative Vision:M.” Up pop several YouTube videos, each done by one of Creative’s customers, showing step-by-step with voice instructions explaining how to correctly remove the battery. I place a lot more faith in what a customer tells me than I do in what they firm tells me.  Your customers (patients and doctors) do the same thing.

The user manual that came with the device never mentions how to remove the battery.

And this is my point. Your patients know what your other patients need, and in what form it will be most useful. And, they are providing it. Now, how difficult would it be for a hospital, say your hospital, to start thinking about your patients as though you were a patient? Not very.

Of the few hospitals which have a Patient Experience Management (PEM) strategy or social media (SM) strategy, not too many are effective.  I’ve only seen one which uses those to increase revenues.  Most hospitals use PEM and SM to manage spin, to try to counteract what their patients are saying about them.  One can only imagine the impact a hospital could have by starting the spin, starting conversations about itself using these tools.

You know what?  You don’t have to imagine it.  It is probably the easiest project you will undertake.

Here’s a link to a PowerPoint deck on the subject of PEM.

Patient Experience Management (PEM): Left Brainers, Right Brainers, and No Brainers

Sometimes I feel a little like the ambassador from the planet Common Sense, and unfortunately very few of us speak the same language. Let’s see if we can segment the Patient Experience Management (PEM) population into left brainers, and right brainers. I am wrestling with an issue that I believe is a no-brainer.

One point, upon which both sides seem to agree, is that without the patients, PEM would be superfluous. The breakdown is that for a hospital to flourish in the long term, hospitals should re-engineer their business processes to facilitate the dissolution or substantive reduction of traditional customer service.  This extends beyond the cordial relationship of a nurse or a doctor and their patients in hospital beds.

In many, if not most instances, the very existence of traditional customer service provides a vehicle which acts as an enabler for failure. It gives hospitals permission to be mediocre in dealing with their interactions with their patients and physicians. In effect, traditional customer service is a tacit admission to the employees and the patients, “We don’t always get it right. We don’t always do our best.

Before deciding not to read further, ask yourself a few questions. The purpose of the questions is to try and articulate a quantifiable business goal for customer service, PEM.

1. Does customer service have planned revenue targets
2. Does it have its own P&L?
3. Does it have a measurable ROI?
4. What is the loaded cost for each patient and doctor interaction?
5. Could the costs of those interactions be eliminated by fixing something in operations?

If the answers to 1-3 are no, the answer to 4 is unknown, and the answer to 5 is yes, your hospital inadvertently made the decision to ignore revenues and to incur expenses that provide no value to your organization. I believe this premise can be proved easily.

The careers of many people are directly tied to the need to have customer service and call centers. Big is good. Bigger is better. Software, hardware, telecommunications, networks—more is better. Calls are the lifeblood of every call center. Without those calls, the call center dies. Calls are good, more calls are better.

When was the last time you were in a meeting when someone said something like, “In the last three years our patient call volume has continued to increase,” or, “Calls have gone up by forty percent.” That part may sound familiar. The phrase nobody has heard is, “We can’t continue to add that many calls.” Tenure and capital. That part of the business is managed with the expectation that the number of calls will continue to grow. And guess what? It does. How prophetic is that? Or is it pathetic? You decide.

Given that, how does the typical healthcare provider manage their customer service investment? Play with the numbers. In many organizations, if customer service management can show that patient satisfaction is holding steady, no matter how bad it is, and they can use the numbers to show that some indicator has moved in a favorable direction, other areas of the business are led to believe that customer service is performing well.

Memo to those executives who are authorizing customer service expenditures—I want to make sure there is no mistaking how I view the issue. If that is what you are hearing from your customer service managers, they either don’t understand their responsibility, or they understand it and they don’t want you to understand it.

To be generous, if patient satisfaction with regard to customer service is below ninety-five percent, your customer service is in serious need of a re-think. Just because patient satisfaction is not tanking faster does not mean customer service is functional.

Most executives know how to get numbers to paint whatever picture they need to paint. Beware the sleight of hand. Any time the customer service manager comes to you and says he is improving operations by reducing the average amount of time someone spends on the phone talking to a patient (average handle time), don’t believe anything else he tells you. Allow me to translate. When the customer service budget is tight (too many interactions and too few people with which to interact) the way to make it fit the budget is to make your people end the call quicker. Shorter calls mean more calls per hour. Note—speed buys you nothing, except for more repeat calls, less resolution, less patient satisfaction. It’s a measure of speed—IT IS NOT A MEASURE OF ACCOMPLISHMNET.

I’d be willing to bet that somewhere between twenty-five and fifty percent of calls from your patients and physicians can be addressed better via a combination of social media and the Internet.

Patient Relationship Mangement–who’s kidding who

(AP) New York. CNN reported that Patient Relationship Management (PRM) and Patient Experience Management (PEM) died. Services will be held next Monday at Dunkin Donuts. Patients are asked not to attend, but instead to forward their complaints to Rosie O’Donnell.

PRM is what hospitals tend to use; it measures against their standards.  It is a push model.  PEM is what patients tend to use; it is a pull model.

A fellow, David Phillips, wrote, “Relationships should be considered part of the intrinsic value of the corporation”—he is an auditor. A group of PhDs who concluded that the six components for measuring relationships include; mutuality, trust, commitment, satisfaction, exchange relationship, and communal relationship. I feel better just knowing that.

Patient Relationship Management—PRM. I hate being the one to break the news but, PRM is dead. I didn’t kill it. It’s dead because it never existed.  Relationship Management.  Who is actually measuring a relationship?  What unit of measure do you use to measure a relationship? Inches, foot-pounds, torque?  PRM carcasses are strewn about. You can’t manage what you can’t or don’t measure.

“What are you talking about?” She hollered. “We measure. We measure everything. If it’s got an acronym, we’ve got a measure for it. KPIs. CSFs. ACD. IVR. ATT. AHT. Hold time. Abandonments. Churn.”

Just because something is being measured, it doesn’t mean that the measure has anything to do with the desired outcome. Nobody has a single quantifiable metric that precisely points to the health of an individual patient relationship. Seems silly? No sillier than really believing you have an ability to manage something as ephemeral and esoteric as relationships.

Just how good are those relationships everyone thinks they’ve been managing? Five percent higher than last month?  Down three percent over plan?  Permit me a brief awkward segue. Joseph Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths are a statistic.” The point is that scale matters—a great deal.  One death versus a million.  One patient interaction versus millions.  It makes a difference. The things we do that impact patient experiences impact patients individually, one patient at a time.

PRM metrics in use at hospitals apply to patients—plural.  PRM metrics are benchmarks and averages—patients aren’t.  Hospitals measure against the masses, against the pool of patients.  The patient mass does not churn, does not leave your hospital, does not ask to speak to a supervisor.  Consider a patient, not a single metric.  Not a single measure in your hospital accurately depicts the success or failure of that patient’s experience.

So, what’s a hospital to do? Stop trying to manage your hospital’s performance by managing relationships.  Here’s what you can do, manage your hospital using things you can measure. Once you can measure it you can manage it.  A hospital can start by defining metrics for the following;

Patient Referral Management—how many patients came via referral?

Patient Resolution Management—how many patient problems were fixed?

Patient Recovery Management—how many patients did you win back?

Patient Retention Management—how many patients did you prevent from going elsewhere?

If you are the CIO, show the VP of Operations your ideas for tracking the answers to these questions. This is step one to having a real PEM program.  If you are really serious about having a patient experience management program, change the word “experience” to the word “equity.”  Patient Equity Management—all of a sudden you have something worth talking about.



I remember the first time I entered their home I was taken aback by the clutter.  Wet leaves and small branches were strewn across the floors and furniture. Black, Hefty trash bags stood against the walls filled with last year’s leaves. Dozens of bright orange buckets from Home Depot sat beneath the windows. The house always felt cold, very cold. After a while I learned to act normally around the clutter.

There came a time however when I simply had to ask, “Why all the buckets? What’s the deal with the leaves?”

“We try hard to keep the place neat,” she replied.

“Where does it all come from?” I asked.

“The open windows, the stuff blows right in.”

I looked at her somewhat askance. “I’m not sure I follow,” I replied as I began to feel uneasy.

“It’s not like we like living this way; the water, the cold, the mess. It costs a fortune to heat this place.  And, the constant bother of emptying the buckets, and the sweeping of the leaves.”

Trying to assume the role of thought leader I asked, “Why don’t you shut your windows? It seems like that would solve a lot of your problems.”

She looked at me like I had just tossed her cat in a blender.

When you see something abnormal often enough it becomes normal. Sort of like in the movie The Stepford Wives.  Sort of like Patient Experience Management (PEM). The normal has been subsumed by the abnormal, and in doing so is slowing devouring the resources of the hospital.

Are you kidding me? I wish. It’s much easier to see this as a consultant than it is if you are drinking the Kool Aid daily. When I talk to people about a statistic that indicates that 500 people called yesterday about their bill, and everyone looks calm and collected, it makes me feel like I must be the only one in the room who doesn’t get it—again with The Stepford Wives.

If I ask about the high call volume they always have an answer, the same answer.  “Billing calls are usually around 500 a day.”  They say that with a straight face as though they are waiting to see if I will drink the Kool Aid. It’s gotten to the point where no matter how bad things get, as long as they are consistently bad, there not bad at all.

This is the mindset that enables the PEM manager (I know you don’t have one—I am being facetious) to be fooled by his or her own metrics. When is someone going to understand that repeatedly having thousands of people calling to tell your organization you have a problem, means you have a problem?

It would probably take less than a week to pop something on your web site, and post a YouTube video explaining how to read the bill.  Next week, do the same thing and help patients understand how to file claims and disputes—granted, you may need more than a week for this one.



Patient Experience Management as healthcare’s Watergate

Below is the text of my article in Hospital Impact.

Patient Experience Management as healthcare’s Watergate

March 9th, 2011

by Paul Roemer

For the second straight year, HealthLeadersreports that Patient Experience Management (PEM) is one of the top three priorities for healthcare executives. A McKinsey study of 1,000 executives showed that for 90 percent of executives it ranked first or second.

Those results put my mind at ease on the issue about as much as Iran’s Amadinejad claiming its nuclear efforts are only targeted at improving the yield of their turnip harvest.

Recall the tagline of the McKinsey study–none of the executives knew who actually owned the patient experience, so little was planned for addressing this priority. However, several hospitals were expected to offer more heart-healthy alternatives in the basement cafeteria–I love strong leaders. Be on the lookout for the Amadinejad Turnip-Melt.


Anyway, I digress.

Healthcare’s Watergate. Follow the money. Yet, there is no money to follow in two key areas, at least not an amount that suggests hospitals view either area with the same degree of import with which they speak to them. What are they?

  • Patient Experience Management (outflow)
  • Our old friend, Meaningful Use (inflow)

Missing is the planned expenditure that would come even close to making Patient Experience Management a priority. Don’t believe me? Print out a copy of your organization’s strategy, its budget, or its general ledger, and sort all of the planned expenditures from greatest to least. Stop reading when you reach the line item for Patient Experience Management.

Meanwhile, I am going for a run. If you find it before I return, wait for me, but you will not have found it by then.

You did not find the dollar amount budgeted for PEM did you?

Just to stay consistent, there is not much of a Meaningful Use windfall flowing out of CMS and into your neighborhood healthcare services provider either.

In general, money for what seem to be very high operational priorities is dribbling along so slowly so as to suggest these initiatives had prostate problems in the offing.

In addition to the fact there was no booth at HIMSS to showcase the most singularly spoken of topic, Meaningful Use, there was also no booth on Patient Experience Management. There was not a single PEM vendor. Why? Because the vendors know PEM, for now, is a unicorn-like ACOs–and nobody has ever seen a unicorn, so why bother trying to sell unicorn horn polish?

By the way, I need to borrow five chairs for a group photo I am taking of everyone eligible to receive Meaningful Use rebates.

Paul Roemer, MBA, is a healthcare strategist and Managing Partner of Paul has more than thirty years of management consulting experience, starting with the Big 4 where he held national leadership positions, and the last fourteen years with his own international consulting firm. He has a passion for how we will live and function in the rapidly changing world of healthcare, and how information technology must provide for and help manage the change. He wrestles with how to turn the lack of information of what the business of healthcare will become, the lack of understanding of the issues, and the general lack of knowledge of the future into decisions we can make today to shape tomorrow. Paul has earned a presence on the national healthcare stage through his futuristic thought leadership, and is a recognized speaker and writer on a number of strategic healthcare issues.

Family Experience Management–not just the Patient

If you are at all like me, when you need information on a topic, you go to Google.  Moreover, if the information you seek does not appear on Google, my mindset tells me the information does not exist.  Google is perceived as the repository of all things written since a caveperson—although I do not think cavepersons are thought of as being politically correct—painted the design of the first iPad on the wall of the cave with the foreskin of a newt.  If a particular idea or bit of information is not on Google, I tend to think the bit for which I am looking does not exist.

Because of the breadth and width of all the collected data, it is difficult to come up with a data request for which there is no response.  Experience shows even if you search on a meaningless phrase, Google will return to you several links that match.

Until yesterday, at least for the search I entered—Family Experience Management (FEM).  Of all the billions of bits of information, my search yielded one hit.  Being curious, I clicked on the link, and the result did not even include the phrase.

So, we are entering unchartered territory, defining a new concept.  This is a little like getting to name a new planet.

Patient Experience Management (PEM) is what got me thinking about the FEM concept, or the lack of the concept.  As we discussed per the McKinsey study, PEM is at the top of the mind of most hospital CEOs and COOs for the next several years.  The study also reported that although PEM is of such high priority, few hospitals are doing anything about PEM because hospital executives do not know who within their organization “owns” the patient.

Ignoring for the moment that this says something about one’s ability to lead, the value of a PEM initiative is it leads to patient retention, lower costs, and is good for business.  PEM, as I look at it, is not limited to streamlining the ER, or allowing patients to park closer to the hospital.  Good PEM enhances and improves every interaction the patient has with the hospital.  The more interactions your PEM program touches, the more benefits to the hospital; at least that is the theory.

But, what if there is more to it?  Is there a way to bring about more benefit by redefining and subsequently implementing a PEM program?  I think there is.

Unlike other services people purchase, healthcare, purchased via a hospital, is purchased and “used” collaboratively; patients, family, and friends are all involved in many aspects of the service.  People other than just the patient help with scheduling appointments, transportation, visiting, care, picking up medications, talking with doctors and nurses, billing, and interfacing with payers. It is kind of like MCI’s Friends and Family program, only the bill is much larger.

So, when hospitals begin to think through how to ‘manage’ the patient experience, managing the patient is but one of the stakeholders they ought to address.  The other interesting takeaway from looking at FEM instead of simply PEM are the social CRM and social networking implications.  As the number of stakeholders increases, so does the size of the social network that is willing to make their experience with the hospital the talk of the town.


Patient Expectation Management

“Dinner is warm, it’s in the dog.”

Let’s see what we can somehow tie this to patients; I couldn’t resist using the title. The phrase came from my friend’s wife. She’d said it to him after he and I came home late from work one night, he having forgotten his promise to call her if we were to be late. Apparently, she hadn’t forgotten his promise. We walked into the kitchen.  “Dinner’s warm—it’s in the dog.”  She walked out of the kitchen.  I think that’s one of the best lines I’ve ever heard.

He was one of my mentors. We spent a lot of time consulting on out-of-town engagements. I remember one time I took out my phone to call my wife when he grabbed me by the wrists and explained I shouldn’t do that. We had just finished working a 10 or 12 hour day of consulting and had stopped by a bar to grab a steak and beer. I remember there was loud music playing. When I inquired as to why I shouldn’t call he explained.

“When your wife is chasing three children around the house and trying to prepare dinner, she doesn’t want to hear music and laughter and clinking beer glasses. She needs to know that you are having as bad a night as she is. So call her from outside, and make it sound like tonight’s dinner would be something from a vending machine.”

“But it’s raining,” I whimpered. Indeed it was, but seeing the wisdom in his words I headed out and made my call.

So, back to the dinner and the dog, and the steak and the phone call. In reality, they are both the same thing. It all comes down to Expectations. In healthcare it comes down to patient expectations.

PEM can be a number of things; Patient experience management, Patient equity management, and Patient expectation management. In this instance, we are discussing the latter. A set of expectations existed in both scenarios. One could argue as to whether the expectations were realistic—and one did argue just that—only to learn that neither of our wives considered the realism of their expectations to be a critical success factor. In that respect, the two women about whom I write are a lot like patients, their expectations are set, and they will either be met or missed.

Each time expectations are missed, their expectationbar is lowered. Soon, the expectation bar is set so low it’s difficult to miss them, but miss them we do. What happens next? Patients leave. They leave and go somewhere they know will also fail to meet their expectations. However, they’d rather give their money to someone who may disappoint them than somebody who continued to disappoint them.


Crowdsourcing versus Social-CRM

I wrote this as a comment to a DachisGroup posting on the topic.

I think the one application of crowdsourcing that is most overlooked is one which hardly fits the definition. This type is not premeditated. It is the type where the “machine” is a means to an end, and it does not originate at the organization. In fact, the organization is the target of this type of crowdsourcing—Social-CRM.

Most definitions of crowdsourcing include the notion of a call going out to a group of individuals who are then gathered via the call to solve a complex problem, acting like a shared problem solving methodology, much like the theory of Law of Large Numbers.

The crowd is likely to have an upper limit in terms of the number of members. By default, traditional crowdsourcing is fashioned to work from the top down; it is outbound, a push model.

Social-CRM (S-CRM) tends to work from the bottom up. There are no boundaries to the number of members; in fact, there can be thousands of members. Also atypical is the fact with S-CRM no single event or call to action drives the formation of the crowd. The crowd can have as many events as it has members.

The unifying force around S-CRM is each member’s perspective of a given firm or organization. Members are often knitted together by having felt wronged or put-off by an action, product, or service provided or not provided by said organization. Most organizations do not listen to, nor do they have a means by which they can communicate with the S-CRM crowdsource. This in turn causes the membership to grow, and to become even more steadfast in the individual missions of their members.

In traditional crowdsourcing, once the problem solving ends, the crowd no longer has a reason to exist, and it disbands. With S-CRM crowdsourcing, since the problem never seems to go away, neither does the crowd.

Every firm has one or more S-CRM groups biting at its ankles, hurting its image, hurting the brand, causing customers to flee, and disrupting the business model. Even so, most organizations ignore the S-CRM crowd just like someone ignores their crazy Uncle Pete who disrupts every family gathering.


Patient Experience Management-there are some easy answers

There’s a reason penguins don’t play the viola—maybe that’s why they don’t have a home page. I used to try to approach things with an open mind, but people kept trying to put things like that in it. Did you ever notice that it’s difficult to encourage people to think outside the box especially if you haven’t seen evidence that the people inside the box are thinking? I’m sure there are those who think these ideas are mere snake oil, but who among you has ever seen a rusty snake?

There is often an inverse relation between the relevance of a document and its brevity. Roemer’s Law 17: the value of a patient user manual used in your call centers is approximately equal to the square root of the number of chapters. (That bit of insight is the equivalent of 4.6 raiments, where one raiment has been universally established as the amount of consulting insight needed to awe a frog for one hour.)

How many different patient user manuals are there in your patient call center? How many pages do those manuals occupy? I think user manuals are so long because call center managers believe busy people are effective people. People who aren’t busy all the time might start to think, and what good has ever come from that?

The United States Constitution is about 9,000 words—that’s about thirty pages. What is it about the interactions between patients and call center reps that requires more verbiage than the amount needed to keep 350,000,000 people living in prosperity and at peace with one another for more than 220 years?

For some people, work takes place in the fast lane. For me, it often takes place in oncoming traffic. To conclude, let’s agree to quit viewing things from the dark side of the sun. Sometimes instead of complaining about the darkness, it’s better to ignite a flame. The next time you are at your desk, open the user manuals, take out all the pages, and replace them with this one rule:


I guarantee that will improve performance. Some executives argue that the chances of something so patently absurd actually being true are a million to one. But consultants have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten. It’s also fair to state that all mushrooms are edible, however it’s equally fair to state that some mushrooms aren’t edible more than once.

To those who want to prove me wrong, go ahead. Destroy the fabric of the universe, then call me.